On Loss and Grace and Saying Goodbye

Re-entry, culture shock, the business of moving between countries and cultures… I should have these things “figured out” by now. Since high school graduation, I have lived in 3 countries, worked 9 different jobs, and resided in 7 different houses, trailers, or apartments (not counting short moves like Bible School, temporary living in my friends’ apartment for a few weeks, and the month we slept on the second floor of a cafe in Thailand). I don’t say that as some sort of bragging right. It’s just a reiteration of the facts that my life seems to scream I’m an expert in change, yet I feel like a novice every time.

Despite the novice feelings, I’ve become accustomed to a pattern for how I deal with change. Months before a big move happens, I begin to get pensive and moody. This is when I sit and gaze out of windows and ponder my life in heavy detail. How did I get here? What did I learn? When will the inevitable goodbyes happen? And most prominently, why am I leaving? Each change is a different set of circumstances, hence different emotions ride alongside said circumstances. Sometimes there is relief and gratitude, sometimes there is pure excitement and anticipation. But there is always, always the unavoidable reality that each time I move, I am exchanging one life for another. I am giving up something to gain something else. Sometimes it looks freeing and certain. Other times it looks terrifying and unknown. If I’m honest, it’s typically a mash-up of all the above.

I’ve written about Third Culture stuff in the past. Maybe this somehow connects to the whole grander scheme of things. Maybe this is just a Third Culture Kid (TCK) struggle. But I beg to differ. A wise friend of mine, quoting a podcast, told me the other day that, “We don’t fear change, we fear loss.” That doesn’t sound like an idea that’s limited to a specific set of people. That sounds like a human thing- like we’re all blaming change for being so evil, when it’s really the loss that is at fault. Losing one thing to gain another.

It would seem easier if the thing I’m losing were something negative. I’d be okay with “losing my life to find it” if that meant giving up parking tickets or rainy beach days. But I know that’s not how it works. Sometimes I lose really good things, in exchange for really good things. But the process of the loss/gain thing doesn’t feel good. It feels messy, chaotic in my head, prone to come out as frustration, sadness, or overt silence.

I know each change that has happened was worth it. I know this in my head, at least. I look back and I see the loss and the gain. Some things are “Aha!’ moments where His orchestration of events makes sense to my finite human mind. Others still have big question marks on them, the ones where I sit alone in a parked car, voicing the questions in loud, frustrated tones to the Almighty because I just.don’t.understand.

I don’t mean to make this a dialogue of my emotionally turbulent state. I guess maybe what I’m trying to say is that so often I have a tendency to think there is some sort of “magic” way to “do” change. Perhaps a manual or book with a 10-step plan for guaranteed success of each upheaval that arises.

I was pouring out my frustrations to another wise friend a few months back about what moving does to me. I don’t see myself as an expert on the process, but I know my tendencies and limitations. She sweetly listened for a while, then responded, “Sounds like you’re really hard on yourself to get it right, Alicia.”

Her simple statement slowed my rant down to a crawl. Hard on myself. Like a graceless taskmaster adding more weight than what a person can carry, I know it’s true. I am hard on myself to get it right this time. Hard on myself to not feel so sad, to not dwell on negativity. Hard on myself to not feel the loss so much, because smoothing it over looks easier and less painful. Hard on myself…

Aren’t we all? Aren’t we all eager to move through the unpleasant feelings of loss or change or whatever it is that makes us cringe inside? Don’t we all wish for resolution and the part of the story where “…they lived happily ever after”?

My wise friend wasn’t done talking. “What would it look like to give yourself grace?” She asks. Grace. It seems mushy and soft, not meant for the tough, weather beaten skin of stuff like death and sickness and moving and saying goodbye and hello in the same breath.

Grace.

The word sounds sweet and smooth like honey, not like a word that can carry gray skies and car accidents. But I know that’s not how it works. He wouldn’t offer grace to “help us in our time of need” (see Hebrews 4) if it wouldn’t actually help us. He isn’t going to leave us hanging just because we feel like we’re left hanging. There is a strange paradox going on here that is bigger than me. First of all, that loss is never the end of the story but because it is a part of the story, I cannot rush through its chapters. Second, that grace is a much stronger word than I give it credit for. They go together quite well, actually. The deeper I know loss, the more I know grace.

This isn’t about simply moving from one country to another now. It suddenly got bigger than that. I guess this is about the power of what it is to feel both the joy of life alongside the change- the loss. It’s a messy, vulnerable place.

But I wonder.

I wonder what would happen if we brought those big question marks to God more often. I wonder what would happen if we weren’t working so hard to “get it right” all the time. I wonder how we would treat each other differently if we knew grace more deeply. Maybe we would all be a little messier, but we’d all be messy so it would be okay.

With all that said, I’m still trying to figure this whole moving thing out. Some days I wake up with clarity and excitement. Some days that little blue girl with the pigtails from the movie Inside Out takes center stage and tinges everything with sadness. I’m pretty sure I’ll never feel like an expert in the art of saying goodbye. But this time around is different. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel like I need to be an expert. Grace.

Grace for the change, for the loss, for whatever it is that you feel like you need to “get right.” You are free to let go, friend.

Why Vision and Personal Development Need Each Other

IMG_6124

I was a happily naive 18-year old at the time. Driving by the homeless shelter on Prince Street on my way home from work nearly every day drove me to this grand idea. After work one chilly fall day, I parked outside the large brick building armed with cookies divided up in little ziploc bags. Within 10 minutes I had befriended a handful of people, given the cookies away, and had some great conversation in the process. Nothing grand or life-changing, but enough to walk away feeling like a million bucks. I was doing good in the world. And it felt good.

Fast forward to a chilly fall day 1 year later when I ducked out of my little basement classroom to hide in the bathroom stall for a while. I can’t do this, Lord. It’s too hard. I don’t feel like giving right now. It hurts. I want to feel good again. How do I even know if I’m making a difference? My perceived expectations of doing good collided with reality when I had to show up every day. Before, all it had taken was a few hours of good works and I was good to go for a while. I could hide away for a bit, work up some more energy, then go out and repeat the process of good works, good feelings. I’ve written about this previously, how so much of what I knew of “mission” life as a teenager coming into adulthood was about a good performance. You come, you give, you sign off with a flourish, you leave. What I had to learn in the trenches of full-time mission was just that. I had to chip away at the thick performance mentality that had been built up over years of short volunteer stints and reading feel-good-save-the-world books. The process of refining my vision was painful and messy. But I needed both the experience of mission that I had craved and the disappointment to wake me up to my own selfishness.

About 3 years ago when I started thinking about where I wanted to head next, I knew 2 things: I wanted to work with/mentor people and empower them to not make the same mistakes I did. As I started looking around, hearing feedback from friends, and experiencing some short-term stuff for myself, I found an interesting disconnect.

I saw mission programs so focused on missions their workers were running themselves to the ground “for the cause of Christ.” I often found these places exhausting. There was no emphasis on sabbath, on rest, on growing personally. Missions was the call, the focus, and the identity, and that was it. The people were frazzled, busy, and quite frankly, a bit jaded.

I saw personal development programs so focused on an individual’s growth that the person would walk away narcissistic, self-consumed, and quite apt to pull you in with the sob story of how they were hurt by their parents/teachers/friends and that’s why they’re so messed up. I found these types equally exhausting. There was no emphasis on vision, on looking ahead armed with truth. Personal development was the call, the focus, the identity, and that was it.

What I slowly unraveled personally began to feel more like a mashup of the two. I saw mission/vision/whatever you want to call it as the place that kept me moving. It was the gas to propel me forward. The problem was that my heart was in bad need of repair. As important as it was/is to have a vision for life, I was stuck because of the things being ignored inside me. I needed to become a participant of life rather than an actor on a stage. These were the slow, heady days full of soul-searching, a 9-5 job, and building deeper connections with fewer friends instead of trying to befriend everyone all the time. It was far from glamorous. As the actor mask began to chip and break, I found my way back to the vision: working with people in all it’s wonderful, exhausting, heart-wrenching, beautiful mess.

When I was given to the opportunity to lead a program unusually focused on these two aspects, it felt like a dream come true. And it is most days. I walk away excited about where the team I’m leading is heading, what they’re learning about God’s heart for people, the complexities of Asian culture, and teamwork. Some days I walk away absolutely exhausted because I can’t force change on people and I’d rather avoid conflict than face it head on.

But the truth I’ve uncovered as a leader has made me realize the vital connection between developing personally and having a vision for life. If we’re going to make it simple and straight-forward, we choose to either learn from pain and discomfort or we stuff it. It’s not even about whether or not you have a “calling” for missions. I’ve met incredibly healthy business people and very unhealthy missionaries. It’s about offering life to the world around you, about becoming a healthier person for your own sake and the sake of those you influence. We can’t have lasting vision without growth. We can’t have lasting growth without vision. And I think that’s true no matter your occupation, location, relationship status, or personality type.

What do you think? What does growing personally mean to you? How did you discover your vision for life? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

On Motorcycles, Malaysia, and Missions

Thanks to the influence of coming from a family of boys, I’ve dreamt of riding/driving a motorcycle ever since I was maybe 12. Finally mustered up enough courage to get my permit last spring, and cruising the back roads nearby was easily a highlight of last summer. Wobbly and unsteady as I was (am), riding motorcycle had a certain amount of danger to it that made me feel adventurous and free.

Then I spent some time in Asia over the winter and had a not-so-pleasant motorbike crash a few days before my scheduled departure back to the States. It was rough going for a couple weeks, but I was excited about the day the dark wound on my foot would be healed enough and the day would be warm enough to go on a ride. Finally convinced dad it was time to go one day, and got all prepped and ready for the ride. My soaring expectations were dashed as we drove through the usual back roads route. Instead of adventure and freedom, all I felt was fear. Crippling fear. Every corner brought back haunting images of sliding on the loose gravel around a small bend on a Thai country road, my ill judgement on how fast I was going, and the shock of pain as blood oozed everywhere. This wasn’t the accident. But my mind was obsessing over it. We’re going to crash. We’re going to crash. I just know it.

It made me a bit upset. Why did something I had anticipated for so long turn sour so fast? A few weeks later I tried it again, this time with my brother, Ryan. Again, it was the same fear haunting my mind and making me feel stiff and wobbly around every corner. I wanted to relocate to some far corner of the world that never used any form of motorized bike and everyone only walked very slowly everywhere or drove the little electric scooters that you see in Wal-Mart. It seemed much safer and uneventful.

The problem is that I wanted to like motorcycle rides again, I really did. The Wal-Mart scooter world only seemed pleasant for so long. I would have had to leave there sometime. For the third attempt, we drove up to the Pinnacle. On winding, curvy roads, I bunched my hands up tight as we went around corners and inwardly gave myself pep talks while attempting to diagnose the unprecedented fear. Alicia, what’s going on? Do you trust your brother? You do remember he has a much better driving record than you, right? Are you going to keep facing your fear so that one day you enjoy motorcycle drives again?

Reaching a sharp corner I leaned closer to Ryan, close enough to reach out and hold on to him for dear life if necessary. In that instant, I suddenly realized why it was so scary. Earlier, I hadn’t been leaning in. Focusing so heavily on fear, I forgot that the best form for sharp corners was leaning down and in. In this position I felt safer, more protected. The fear didn’t leave instantly, but somehow the knowledge that I could feel protected on a motorcycle began to go to my head. On our ride back, I made hand waves in the wind as we drove a straight stretch of road, and felt the joy seeping in again. It wasn’t completely back yet, but it was coming.

If I wanted to sum up my experience in mission life so far, insert the word missions in place of motorcycle and you would have most of the story. Wanting to “do missions” ever since I was a young girl, anticipating it, trying it out for several years, only to have my idealism shattered, all messy things oozing everywhere. If you’ve read some of my previous posts on this, a lot of the messiness had to do with coming face to face with my own brokenness and learning how to live more honestly. Getting back on the mission bandwagon has felt scary, like I’m waiting for something terrible to happen that will crush me yet again. Every little hiccup fills me with fear, holding my breath for something worse than the last time. I want to run to some corner of the world where everyone is perfect and nothing is required of me except to wake up and smell roses.

The problem is that I want to “like” missions again, no matter how hard, frustrating, scary, or impossible it seems. I can’t hypothetically smell the roses forever. It’s only in the past year that I have begun to discover the audacious hope for moving forward. Leaning into Jesus brings healing. He is really good at being a Healer. At showing up in the places that are terrifying- the loose gravel corners, if you will- He isn’t afraid of the mess and ill judgement that’s there. It is a painfully slow, gradual business- this healing stuff. Like a flower working to blossom, it means effort and honest searching and letting friends speak truth and depth into your life (I guess flowers don’t actually need that part, but you get the idea).

In the first chapter of Matthew, the angel tells Joseph that the God-child coming to earth will be called “Immanuel,” which means, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:23)

God with us.

When life seems raw and uncertain. When my unrealistic expectations of missionary life crash with reality, because the truth is that I can’t actually save the world no matter how much I may want to. He draws me out to be faithful and free inside; to love Him more so I can love others better. Those two things cannot and are not perfected overnight. I’m learning to take these shaky steps towards a clearer future. It probably won’t be void of pain or disappointment. But it’s okay. He is with us.

I’m ready to learn how to lean in again. And that means a hypothetical motorcycle ride and a real move to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with all its dangerous beauty of never knowing what the results will be. It’s peculiar and wonderful to be so excited about this upcoming chapter. Most days I don’t really know how to depict it all. It’s something so far beyond myself, it always will be, and maybe I’m learning to be just a little more okay with that. I read THIS book recently and am keeping the words below from Jena Nardella as a reminder to keep walking. I want to keep leaning in and learning and growing- whether it’s on a motorcycle or a Wal-Mart scooter.

“One might imagine that I’ve changed, that along with my vision… came a new courage, an undiscovered gutsiness, a joy in taking risks. The truth is, I’ve never felt equipped to do anything extraordinary in my life. I battle fear every time I get on a plane. I experience so much failure and self-doubt that I have come to expect it. But the path… taught me that it’s less about having it all together and more about the unwavering commitment to keep walking…My faith is messier now than it once was. My questions are bigger. Some of my convictions have eased into mystery, even as my understanding of God has grown… we are not called to change the world. We are called to love the world. And to love the world, we are the ones who must change.” (Jena Lee Nardella)

Check out a glimpse of what I’m joining HERE!

IMG_3462

Collaborating: Third Culture Adults and Those Who Are Not

Megan* grew up in three different countries on two continents. She speaks two languages, enjoys pickled chicken feet for a snack, and currently lives half a world away from her family. As a TCK in the early stages of adulthood, she has a very broad outlook on life and the world around her while wrestling with career choices and never feeling completely at home no matter where she lives. Because her family lives far away, she must lay her own foundation for connections with people and church and community.

Third Culture Adults are not a new phenomenon, and I don’t mean to write about them like they are. I vaguely attempted to write about this stage of life based off of my young adult experiences, but found them lacking. You see, I’m quite sure every TCK moves into adulthood differently. Writing my story alone wouldn’t sufficiently cover all that is to be said. Just like childhood, every experience is different. I have noted a few common themes that seem to be more prominent in the lives of those who have been raised in more than one cultural setting. However, before making blanket statements on these themes, my hope is to gather more stories and experiences outside of my limited knowledge. Namely, I want to hear from other Third Culture Adults.

While I have already asked some friends and family members for feedback, I’d also be interested in hearing from you, the reader, the TCK community at-large, and those affected or influenced by TCK friends or family members.

Before going any farther, I want to add a disclaimer that is vital to this subject: Being a TCK does not make you/us more special, talented, gifted, or superior than any other individual. It is nice to have a place or a “box,” if you will, to fit into, but I’m not looking to create an exclusive identity club for people with unique cultural experiences. This is something I realized with startling clarity after blogging my story. So maybe your childhood is different and you grew up eating strange foods or speaking fluent Cantonese. These things do matter because they so often strongly affect your worldview. However, they do not place you/us on some sort of special-ness, hierarchy scale. Sometimes I wonder if, in an honest desire to be understood, we over-emphasize our uniqueness and lose our audience in the process. I guess what I’m hoping for is that I don’t get so caught up in my own experience that I lose sight of caring about somebody else.

In this new series of posts, I want to hear from TCK’s who are now adults:

What are some strengths and weaknesses you’ve found that are traced back to your childhood experiences? Did your multi-cultural childhood feel primarily like a hindrance or a gift?

I would also love to hear from non-TCK individuals:

What strengths and weaknesses have you found in living in one primary culture? If you could tell your TCK friend one thing (whether it be positive or negative), what would that one thing be? What are pros and cons you’ve found in having friends who are TCK’s?

These are loaded questions, and it might feel easy to shy away from them. Instead of looking at it as a mountain, maybe we need to start looking at it like a bridge. My hope is that we can bridge the chasm that often seems to separate one cultural perspective from another. Perhaps we can use it as a driving force for connection. Let’s collaborate and learn from each other. I wonder sometimes if we don’t miss out on all kinds of good things because we’re too focused on the differences.

So, what does it look like to learn from each other? How would you answer the questions above? Whether it’s through comments, messages, or conversations, I’d love to hear your feedback!

(feel free to refer to Part One of this series for the definition of a Third Culture Kid and more resources about it)

177801_4075290443350_1037578869_o

 

 

Missions, Feelings & The Unexpected

I didn’t like cities. As a young prairie child, going to the city meant an hour-long drive one way, hours of grocery shopping, traffic, general traffic noise, and more grocery shopping. It was generally the worst way for a  girl to spend a Saturday.

A few years later in middle school, we watched a little promo video for an inner-city VBS. I remember thinking, Wow I would never EVER want to do that. It doesn’t even look fun. Not 5 years later I was indeed a part of that same VBS and having the time of my life. Even though I was barely out of childhood, my former preconceptions of cities were shattered and replaced with an excitement about city life thanks to the host of opportunities and adventure it presented.

I think God has a sense of humor. Not because I think He is a cruel God and has all manner of tricks up his sleeve, but because His call on our lives when we choose to follow Him is usually way outside of our limited ideas. During teenage years when I thought about adult-hood (which was quite often and with much regularity), there were certain ideas and goals I had in mind. Some things such as career and location were vague. Others were more specific, like whether or not I wanted to name my kids after various cars or opt for Russian royalty instead.

There was one thing I knew that I wanted to avoid: a short-term missions trip to Asia. It appeared to be the “in” thing and seemed like some sort of rite-of-passage for Anabaptist youth. You graduate from high school, work a couple years, go to Asia for a month or more, come back and live small-town American for the remainder of your life. That was NOT going to be me. I would maybe go to visit my missionary friends, but never for some short-lived mission experience.

IMG_5034.JPG

This past winter I did just what I said I would never do (go to Asia on a short-term trip) and found it to be more fulfilling than I had ever dared hope. During that month, Jesus met me in so many real ways, and I had this feeling that I needed to come back someday. It was one of my team members that suggested Thailand. At first the idea excited me, but eventually waned to a lukewarm, half-hearted idea. I didn’t especially love Thailand (although the food and friendly people were nice). I didn’t love it because, well, tropical countries just aren’t my forte. Also, let’s be honest, everybody goes there. And I didn’t want to be a part of the “everybody.” Or something.

 

So I came back to the US and started a new position at work and moved to the city (It’s true. My childhood self never saw that one coming). I have no regrets on these decisions, but my heart was restless, wanting something else that seemed elusive and far out of reach. Fast forward several months and the Thailand idea hits me in the face again. This time I know it’s a wake-up call because the restlessness was burying me in discontent and apathy. Jesus never forced me to this decision, but I know. I know that following Him even if the feelings aren’t there brings so much joy in the end. It’s always, always worth it, even when it might be hard or non-glamorous.

This winter I’m going to Thailand for 2 months. Call it a personal vision trip or trying out the overseas missionary life or a desire to see what Jesus is up to. Whatever it may be called, there is a clear distinction in what my ideas once were and how graciously He has guided me in HIS direction, which always end up being way better than my plans.

If I’m honest, there is a piece of it that is scary when I think about plunging into this kind of risk again. Living by faith is always harder in the moment than looking at it from the outside. But I’m also convinced it’s the best part. I don’t always know or even need to know what it looks like. No matter, I want to live in such a way that I need Him to come through for me. Experiencing that kind of faith is much harder and more beautiful than can even be described because every experience is different.

I don’t want to go to Thailand, but I’m going anyways. Not because I have reached a plateau of grandiose spirituality where nothing is felt and everything is obedience. Rather, because I am a messy, little human who has an ingenious and kind Father. He prepares accordingly, and gives the want the moment I need it and not a minute sooner. The Great Commission was never about my feelings anyways.

 

“Let’s show up to life. Let’s prove how beautiful it can really be. Let’s face the conflict, redeem it, conquer it, and allow it to mold our character. Let’s participate in what God is doing in the world.” [Donald Miller]

 

 

Imperfection

My avid, author-prone friends say writing is hard.

I didn’t agree… It came and comes naturally on journal pages and word documents that fill up rapidly when there is a story or idea to remember. Writing is easy… until the blank card for my friend’s baby shower stares up at me and the research paper on refugees cannot include personal pronouns and blogging goals become murky and disorganized in a pile of unfinished ambition.

Imperfection is scary. Especially when you get to be imperfect on something like “the cloud,” between cooking blogs, well-educated theologians, and DIY professionals that live on Pinterest. I would much rather appear to have my act together before delving into this world of blog life and writer’s block.

So why bother?

A few months ago I wrote a series about Third Culture Kids. I needed to write it, more for myself than anyone else. Crazy as it may sound, it was a huge part of letting go of the more painful parts of that era. Throwing a personal story out there for the whole world to see is intimidating but strangely freeing. I got to hear from close friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers. And we all had something in common. Suddenly my story wasn’t alone anymore, and there were no excuses to feel sorry for myself.

But then writers block happened, and everything I would start always stopped short. I hadn’t “arrived” yet and writing about playing piano in a park ended in a cliche manner. That’s just it though, isn’t it? It’s easier to write about something after the fact than to admit imperfection in the middle of it.

I tried writing the Third Culture stuff for two years. It laced my journals and conversation, but it was just too personal and unfinished to share. That’s what I thought. Then this past spring it finally clicked and I wrote and wrote and it wasn’t so confusing anymore. A few weeks ago we went up north to bushland, Ontario, for a short, quick visit. Suddenly childhood was front and center again as we sped past familiar businesses and caught up with old friends who played a huge role in my life so many years ago. We drove back in to pick wild blueberries and now I’m (mostly) adult enough to not be scared of bears and actually save the berries that I pick instead of eating all of them.

The truth is that real-life story is still happening, always happening, and after spending so much effort on one topic, I began realizing that being a Third Culture kid isn’t the point. It’s important and it matters and it needs to be addressed, but it’s just not the point, no matter how much I selfishly want it to be.

It’s so good to learn from the past and seek forgiveness and redemption in the painful stories that are known. The problem is that I had gotten stuck in the past and distracted the pain by living for the future. When A, B, and C happen, when I go back to this place again, when that person apologizes for what they said… It’s easier to imagine the future than it is to embrace this day, this moment.

Maybe it’s because I’m a visionary and most days I have to mentally pull myself back into the present and choose to see today, in its ordinary and mundane tasks, as a gift, too. Imperfection shouldn’t be an excuse for laziness or apathy. I guess I want to see my imperfections as a place where grace can abound. My dear grandma has often said, “I want to grow old gracefully.” I’m not “old” by any means, but watching her gives me hope that it is possible to do so.

I want to live gracefully. Not settling for imperfections and mistakes, but not letting it hold me back from living with integrity and honesty a little more each day.

“And if you should forget [Jesus] for minutes or even days, do not groan… but begin anew… every minute can be a fresh beginning.” (Frank Laubach)

 

 

 

 

Third Culture Kid: The Collision

I was 19 years old, sitting in a counseling office, convinced the weight of the world was on my shoulders. The reasons for being there that day were varied and loose. I still don’t remember what we talked about in that short time except for one statement.

“You are a third culture kid, Alicia.”

She posed this phrase as a statement. It wasn’t a question.

Even if I wanted to tell you all that transpired after our move from Otterburne, Canada, to Lancaster County, USA, I couldn’t. [Find out why we moved HERE]  Mostly because I don’t remember a lot of it. Some days vague memories jump out at me, but its mostly gray and foggy, like a dream where you try to completely open your eyes but you find it impossible to do so.

5th grade hit me like a ton of bricks. I went to a private, conservative Mennonite school. I was distantly related to half of my class. My last name was no longer unusual, but commonplace and almost expected. The ability to introduce myself in French could not help me conquer verbs and adjectives nor did it do anything for my math homework. If it is possible to have a constant headache for months on end, then that is what I most remember.

The headache of trying to figure out a new school system. The shock of going to a church that all dressed like us, instead of being the only girl wearing different attire. Sunday School wasn’t a program of skits or songs about Pharaoh baby and sailing home, but an actual class around a table, where we sat on hard-back chairs and read from the lesson.

This new period of life was a maze of confusion and guilt. I looked like these people. I dressed like these people. My name implied that I belonged here. The guilt came from feeling like an outsider and an intruder. It came from the exorbitant amount of time I fantasized a different life. The confusion was trying to navigate the murky waters of adolescence and a new culture at the same time. I cried several times a week, always in private. The only reprieve came from daily, then weekly phone conversations with my best friend.

It was not a particular person, group, or individual circumstance that caused these hard years. It was the clash of cultures blown up in the world of a child. It wasn’t one moment of misunderstanding. It was a thousand little details that left me confused and frustrated. Some were humorous, like the time we asked where the washroom was at a friend’s house, and they led us to the laundry room. Others were hard, like the day I figured out you need to be invited before you randomly go over to someone’s house.

The simplest way to sum it up is this: In my Canadian world, I was different and I knew it. My friends knew it too. “Why do you wear dresses and skirts all the time?” In these moments I would gather them around and, in hushed tones proclaim “It’s because I am Mennonite.” Then we would run off and play another round of soccer or grounders. It was curiosity, but it didn’t change our relationship.

In my new American world, I looked the same. I dressed the same. My name said I belonged here. But I didn’t think the same or act the same, and this is what set me apart most. Attempting to even describe the exact differences is nearly impossible without categorizing or labeling.

From the age of 10 until that day in the counselor’s office 9 years later, I tried to convince myself that someday I would fit in. I wanted to believe that at some point in my life there would be a time I could clearly say, “I am from here,” and wholeheartedly mean it. It hadn’t happened yet, and suddenly I knew it never would. I am from Lancaster, yes. But I am also from Ontario and Manitoba and all those pieces of life have influenced who I am, whether I admit to it or not. It is different, perhaps, but not bad or wrong.

Throughout my teenage years, I looked at this difference as a detriment. We all applaud the idea of being different, but the reality of being different was and is excruciatingly frustrating some days. Most common love-hate questions?

“Where are you from?”

“Where did you grow up?”

“So you’re Canadian, eh?”

“Where are your parents from?”

“What was it like to live in  __________?”

Every TCK dilemma is how to answer these or similar questions. The long version? The short version? The sarcastic version? Sometimes they are good questions. Other times it’s hard to know how to respond without launching into a 10 minute explanation.

Becoming an adult has its own set of problems. Where do I root myself? Do I even try to root myself at all?  Which place do I refer to as “home”? Sometimes the heightened awareness of culture shock and adjustment is an asset. Sometimes you enter another country and tiptoe around, figuratively speaking, because you don’t want to offend anyone. Like a human chameleon, most TCK’s are subconsciously or consciously looking for ways to blend in or adapt quickly to the culture(s) we are in at any given time.

It’s not always an obvious difference that “sets us apart.” There are definitely varying degrees of Third Culture experience. Perhaps the greatest significance in the TCK label is just that: we actually have a definition for what we are. It wasn’t so much that a professional counselor told me I was a Third Culture Kid, but rather it was because someone who barely even knew me paid enough attention to recognize that part of my story.

Belonging everywhere and nowhere is a gift, not an impediment. It’s hard, confusing, exhausting, and soul-searching, but it’s still a gift. It’s okay to be different. The world needs to hear your insight and perspective that spans beyond a singular, primary culture. It needs you to risk in the places that hurt most. My hope in these series of posts is not just for you, the reader, to hear my story. Rather, that we as a community of people, no matter the story, can start engaging each other in discussion and dialogue on how to use our multi-cultured childhood experience as a tool for good.

How can we walk in grace towards the people and cultures around us?

What has been most helpful to you, as a TCK, in your Third Culture experience?

To my non-TCK readers, what have you learned (if any) from these posts? What can we do to better engage you with our experiences, while also hearing yours?

 

Third Culture Kid: The Memoir

//the backdrop for any one person is always the story. It’s significant to the individual, but not always to the general public. In the next few paragraphs below, I am attempting to summarize the first half of my life in the hopes that the second half might be more understandable. This is part two of a series of posts on my experience as a Third Culture Kid. Read the introduction HERE//

I grew up in… well. Three different places, I guess. My childhood started in Southern Ontario, Canada, where we moved 3 times before my 4th birthday. The summer I was 4, we moved to smalltown, Manitoba, Canada. Exchanging rolling farms for flat prairies, the majority of my childhood memories are of this place. We lived in a college campus trailer court, surrounded by those like us- poor college students with aging cars.

From the ages of 4-9, I lived most of my life outside. The Manitoban outdoors contained all seasons of mud, ditches filled with melting snow, mosquitoes, and daily bike rides on the dirt roads. I had a best friend, places to explore, dandelions to pick in the spring and snow forts to build in the winter. The first two summers we returned to Ontario where dad worked as a mechanic and we lived in one-bedroom apartments.

If I can credit anyone with my exposure to various cultures, it would have to be my parents. My dad grew up as a missionary kid in Northern Ontario and my mom as a pastor’s kid in Ohio. Combining his easygoing appreciation for different cultures with her compassion for the handicapped employee at Wal-Mart made for a rather dynamic duo.

As a child, I never fully appreciated the variety of college friends they seemed to have. An Indian friend who made us curry, a Pakistani family that taught my mother how to make amazing rice, a Korean couple that were like an aunt and uncle to us, dad’s Burmese friend who we introduced to ski-doo rides, and Canadian Grandpa Pat who we thought was the jolliest white-haired man ever. The seaweed soup from our Chinese friends smelled odd in comparison to my favorite grilled cheese sandwiches. Sometimes the thick accents were hard to understand. However, they were our friends and some our surrogate family.

If this wasn’t diverse enough, my parents decided to attend a Salvation Army church in the heart of the city for several months. The first Sunday we attended, I was convinced we were going to be shot at some point. Once again, the smells were strange. A few people were sober, but most were drunk, high, or just coming for the free food afterwards. In my childish mind, this was NOT a good place to be. My parents faithfully drove the 1 hour distance every Sunday morning for 6 months, right up until the time my youngest brother was born.

My favorite “second home” was visiting our grandparents in Northern Ontario. It was the home of my father’s childhood and teenage years, so it seemed a natural fit. Missionary kid playmates, airplane rides with Grandpa, and exploring in the bush was different than Manitoba life yet completely normal and exciting to my child-mind. Bundling up to go on ski-doo rides through the bush-land in the winter was absolute bliss, wind whipped cheeks included.

The 2nd and 4th grade years of life, I attended the local public school. 4th grade is the time I look back on as one of the best years of my childhood. I had three best friends and played jump rope, soccer, and grounders every recess, all year round. My friend and I would walk from school to piano lessons every other week. The French teacher read us children’s books and immersed us in Canadian French history, speaking basic phrases, and the time of day. There was also the Terry Fox run, , attending the Festival de Voyageur, and building snow turtles that turned to ice after several weeks.

The rumblings of a move came over Christmas time. We went to Ohio to visit family, and while there, my parents took a short trip to Pennsylvania for a job interview. We had visited this distant place several years ago and I had faint memories. A girl with a nice dress that smiled at me during Sunday School, lots of mountains/hills, and the musty smell of Great Grandpa and Grandma’s house. I didn’t think much of it until January when my parents sat down and told us we were moving. Even then, it didn’t fully register.

Two of my classmates came up to me one day after hearing this news, and asked how far away Pennsylvania was. “30 hours,” I replied. They both gaped and walked away exclaiming about the far-ness of it. I felt smug. I was moving somewhere that was far away and different, which apparently astonished my schoolgirl crush. It was a good day.

Somewhere between packing and sorting, writing my name in white out on the dark green bedroom wall so the next trailer dwellers would know I had been here, and having one last slumber party with my besties, the truth began to dawn on me.

I was leaving.

There wasn’t going to be a “see you later” or a return. It was “good-bye.” The excitement of a new adventure quickly became like rocks in the pit of my stomach. I knew virtually no one in the new place, and I certainly wasn’t about to call USA “home.” Moving day came, and my parents came to pick us up at school. It was computer class, and we were busily typing away in the semi-darkness when Mrs. M caught my eye, and motioned to the door. It was time to leave.

The class lined up and I said goodbye, gave hugs, and sulked my way to the Penske truck. You know those memories that are so vivid it’s like a movie you’ve watched a thousand times and memorized every line? That’s what this moment was. We passed the school playground, the street where they did karate chops on bricks during the summer fair, and the ice rink where I had learned to skate amid the swirl of childish hockey games.

Destination: Pennsylvania.

Third Culture Kid: The Introduction

Third Culture Kid: a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.
(http://www.tckworld.com/)

Every person has a story.

I’ve spent the last 2-3 years attempting to write bits and pieces of my childhood and teenage years as a Third Culture Kid or TCK. It has been primarily difficult for two reasons.

1. No matter how many adjectives, stories, or pictures you tell few, if any, are able to identify with your individual experience. This is true no matter who you are, but especially true in this context.

2. It’s easy to feel unqualified or inept because there are so many others who have experienced this cultural chasm much more deeply than I have.

Despite these hurdles, I will at least attempt to share my story in the hopes that more discussion and recognition of this subject will be birthed.

A few disclaimers to begin:

If you find yourself relating to this idea of being a third culture kid, don’t undermine that identification. I spent years undermining my connection to this group simply because I thought only missionary and military kids fit the bill. Being able to identify myself in this group has drastically helped me understand myself and how I view those around me so much better.

If you can’t identify with this third culture kid (TCK) business, it’s okay. I’m not expecting everyone to identify with this group, nor feel obligated to. My hope for those of you who are not TCK’s is that you can gain insight into a world often full of misunderstanding and cultural faux pas.

If you can identify with it based off your travel or work experiences as an adult, that’s also not a bad thing. You may be a Third Culture Adult (TCA), which is something I (or perhaps some other inspired individual) can expound on in the future. In the age of “going into service” and vast amounts of global opportunity, this group is becoming increasingly larger and broader. When you fully engage yourself in a culture different than the one you came from, returning “home” can be a hard and frustrating thing. Your experience matters and should be addressed more often. However, this first part is primarily about those have been raised in other cultures and/or countries based off of parents’ jobs, schooling, ministries, etc.

In the world of Third Culture Kid-dom, every single story is different, even within families. My youngest brother has known a very different childhood than I have, mostly because we have actually lived in one house longer than 5 years now. In fact, most of his life has been primarily one culture, which means he wouldn’t necessarily relate to the TCK idea.

Whether you are a TCK or not, I am convinced that every story matters. So even though I may be spending a large portion writing about my childhood and experiences as a Third Culture Kid, I don’t believe that those who have lived in one primary culture all their lives have less to offer than ones who have continuously traveled the world or moved around. My goal is simply to share my story in order to engage discussion.

If you have stuck with me thus far, thank you. The beginning of the story is coming up in the next post!

(For more detailed info on different types of TCK’s, facts, etc, check out http://tckid.com/what-is-a-tck.html)

 

 

Burnout Part II: 5 Things

I’ll be honest, I’m not exactly sure how to start a part two.

(Find part one HERE )

I wasn’t sure that I wanted to so publicly delve deeper into burn out, mostly because my experience is minutely small when I think of those who have sweated and fought hard on the frontlines of ministry for decades.

I won’t pretend to know the answer as to why God created us with limits in the physical realm.

I just finished reading Expectations & Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, and found it absolutely timely and refreshing.

It seemed to put the frustration of burnout and/or tiredness into perspective.

Out of this, conversations with others, and Jesus bringing a fresh energy in my heart, I want to share a few things that may be helpful for you or those close to you.

The list below certainly is not exhaustive nor is it meant to “diagnose” whether or not you may experiencing fatigue or burnout. It’s simply me trying to sum up my own experience in a few brief paragraphs.

 

strong-woman

1. Burnout does not mean you are not “strong enough.”

A part of living in a fallen world is that our whole bodies (physical, emotional, spiritual), to a greater or lesser degree, have limits.

It’s not necessarily wrong to stretch limits, because how else can a person grow?

However, when those limits are constantly stretched without a break for months or years on end, we wear out. I was recently listening to a speaker who compared burning out to be a rubber band stretched tight. At some point, it will break. If it continues stretching without a pause, it’s not if it will break, but when.

“Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

I think the reason Jesus spent so much time on speaking words of rest and comfort is He knew/knows that so many of us (or perhaps it’s just me) like to prove our identity by over-doing. Do=Worth.

I’m glad that in His Kingdom, Love=Worth. We are commanded to do and go and serve, absolutely, but not for the sake of our identity or value. Separating the two, doing and value, is so crucial to ministry life, because they often get mish-mashed together.

 

f-grade

2. Burnout does not mean you have failed.

I am convinced that anyone who is spent and tired will experience this feeling of failure to some degree.

When one is exhausted and spent, it’s hard to see much good or potential, even in yourself.

Once again, it is a signal to my mind, body, and soul, that something needs to change- I am learning that instead of looking at burnout as failure, I can choose to look at it as a time to allow others to speak into my life- for real.

Looking back, I see my high expectation of what I thought ministry would do for me. This placed me in somewhat of a danger zone, because it was easy to base my worth on whether my circumstances felt “successful” or not. The higher my expectation of ministry, the greater the danger of feeling like a “failure.” I have no regrets in how, where, and when I chose to “serve.” But I went in with the mindset that I am there to “fix things” or people. Ministry and working with people doesn’t work like that.

It’s important to recognize our imperfections and shortcomings. However, to sit and wallow in personal failure only worsens our feeling of inadequacy, and certainly doesn’t get us anywhere.

Instead of sitting in our failures, personal or otherwise, let it draw us further into His Presence as while brokenness is glaringly obvious. He will speak Truth for each individual heart.

IMG_2036

3. Burnout is not permanent, but recovering from it does take time.

I deeply appreciate the concept of having seasons of life. It fits so well in this area.

There are seasons I just want to rush through because they are hard or frustrating, and my demanding spirit doesn’t like the idea of patience.

A season or an extended season or several different seasons of burnout… they don’t happen overnight nor do they disappear overnight. The truth of the matter is that I wouldn’t even care about burnout/fatigue if it had instantly “disappeared” one day.

Sometimes He gives us the gift of instant healing, but sometimes it is the gift of eventual healing. It takes time to gain fresh perspective and fresh vision and fresh energy for life.

And that’s okay, even if it doesn’t make sense right now.

 

helping_hand

4. Burnout can reveal how desperately we need Someone to save us.

I found myself the other morning asking Jesus if it’s actually ok to need Him so badly. Some days it’s easy to look back and be almost shocked at how often I mutter or outright cry out, “Jesus, I need You!”

He spoke His answer: “I cannot work through you if you don’t need Me.”

It’s okay to need Jesus very badly, all the time.

It’s what we were created for.

IMG_4623

5. Burnout can be a part of a greater, deeper journey- if we let it.

At the end of the above mentioned book, the author made the comment that they wouldn’t want to go back to who they were and what they knew before experiencing burnout and fatigue.

It was a new perspective for me, but I realized it’s true.

Burnout or exhaustion has refined and re-defined my view of what ministry and life is about.

It has caused me to recognize weak spots in my own personal life that I would have by-passed or ignored otherwise.

While in this imperfect and fallen world, the hope Jesus has given me is this: whatever is broken or battered or scarred? It can be turned around into a powerful tool for good.

It sounds so cliche, and yet, when I choose Jesus and believe that He DOES redeem, and He IS good, I have every reason to hope. There may not be full restoration now, on this earth.

And that’s okay.

It gives me an ache for heaven, and maybe that ache, that longing for something better, beyond this earth, is actually what we were created for.

 

Lord, keep me eternity conscious.” [Leonard Ravenhill]